Program teaches young students in Georgetown County about golf and more

October 31, 2012 

— The day her mentor attends has always been Kensington Elementary fourth-grader Amariah Brandon’s favorite school day.

But that has been superseded in her hierarchy of preferred days.

No. 1 is now every other Tuesday, when her class goes to Wedgefield Plantation Golf Club for instruction from The First Tee of the Grand Strand as part of the organization’s involvement in the Georgetown School District.

“I really love golf and I really love [my mentor] too, but this would be my favorite day,” Amariah said. “What I love about it is I’ve always wanted to be a famous golf player, and if I want to be a golf player I want to step up so I can do better things, and this really helps me do that.”

The First Tee program was created in 1997 to give underprivileged children an introduction and access to golf. It has evolved into a youth-development program that teaches life skills as well as golf skills, stressing nine core values.

It has approximately 200 chapters throughout the U.S. and five additional countries, and the Grand Strand chapter is in its first year of being overseen by the very successful First Tee of Brunswick County.

The new leadership has aggressively promoted The First Tee’s National School Program, in which First Tee instruction is incorporated into physical education curriculums, and School Day Program, which buses students to off-campus sites for instruction.

Georgetown County School District Superintendent Randy Dozier has gone all in.

The First Tee agenda is being taught in PE classes at all 10 Georgetown County elementary schools, and fourth grade students at both Kensington Elementary and Waccamaw Intermediate receive off-campus instruction for 90 minutes once each fortnight.

Kensington students are bused to Wedgefield every other Tuesday, and Waccamaw students receive instruction at Tradition Club every other Thursday.

“When you see kids participate in those things, they’re excited about being in school, they’re excited about participating and you see improvement both academically and in their behavior,” Dozier said. “They don’t want to be left out of those programs.”

Dozier’s goal for the 2013-14 school year is to have fourth-grade classes at all elementary schools go off-site during the school day for instruction. “I see a lot of potential for growth,” Dozier said.

During the School Day Program, students recite a core values cheer and discuss one of the values both before and after their golf instruction at three rotating stations. The nine values are honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.

“It’s a great way to learn how to show character,” Kensington fourth grader Jackson Truluck said. “You can learn how to play golf and do great things at the same time.”

One of The First Tee’s core values is emphasized each month in the district, each faculty member at Kensington Elementary selects a student of the month based on that principle, students are commended for exhibiting one of the principles, and banners and flags promoting the core values hang in hallways at every school in the district.

“This gives them the opportunity to do the sport and to acquire some golf etiquette, but at the same time it’s causing them to develop character,” said Kensington Elementary assistant principal Jamie Thompkins. “We have golf here, but we’re really coming at you with an angle of developing your character traits.”

PE teachers must complete a few hours of online training and receive Starting New at Golf (SNAG) equipment – featuring oversized plastic clubs and tennis balls – for their instruction. The SNAG package costs $3,500 per school, and The First Tee and school district have split the cost equally. “It’s a fantastic program. I love it,” said 10-year Kensington PE teacher Shelly Wilson.

Georgetown County has had a comparable off-campus program over the past three years in Y-Splash, an elective class for second graders offering swim lessons at the Georgetown YMCA.

“It was something we’ve done before and it’s been real successful, and the First Tee is another part of that,” Dozier said. “I was hesitant. But we had a lot of help, a lot of volunteers and a lot of anticipation, and there has been a lot of excitement. … It’s nice to see the community participate. It doesn’t work without the help of the community.”

The First Tee school instruction will culminate in May with the Champions Challenge, a golf skills competition featuring students from each elementary school.

The First Tee of the Grand Strand has served approximately 200 juniors through age 18 this year through its after-school and Saturday programs and summer camp. Those attendees are predominantly from Horry County.

Approximately 240 fourth graders attend the biweekly sessions at Wedgefield and Tradition Club. “This beats anything we’ve been doing with the after-school program because it’s great to have so many kids here at one time,” said First Tee of the Grand Strand program director Ryan Hart, who is continually in search of volunteers.

The First Tee of the Grand Strand Executive Director Veronica Gore-Kennedy would like to expand the National School Program in Horry County Schools. Superintendent Cindy Elsberry said The First Tee program is taught through PE classes in 10 of the district’s 27 elementary schools.

“I think it’s a great program because I think we should be teaching individualized sports because they’re lifetime sports,” Elsberry said. “They’re very good for kids. [The character building] is an added benefit. All of our schools have some type of character development program. They do it in different ways but they all have something to develop character.”

Elsberry said the district generally leaves specific instruction in classes up to individual PE teachers, who can choose between a number of sports and activities that also include archery, badminton and table tennis. “As far as expanding the program, we leave that up to our teachers,” Elsberry said.

The First Tee of the Grand Strand is close to establishing a headquarters in Georgetown to provide off-campus and after-school sessions.

Georgetown County is considering providing approximately 30 acres of the 375-acre Eight Oaks Park recreational complex off U.S. 521 for a First Tee facility that would provide playing and practice facilities and a building with classrooms and learning aids. First Tee members would have unlimited use of the facility.

“County Council has expressed a willingness to make that land available, so going forward we hope we’ll be able to partner with them and place a facility here,” Georgetown County Administrator Sel Hemingway said.

Gore-Kennedy said she also is meeting Thursday with Conway Country Club general manager Mike Hardee about the possibility of making the nine-hole course a base facility for Horry County. She has had a few discussions about other facilities, thus far unsuccessfully.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.

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